10 out of 12 not a 5 out of 5

10 out of 12 GigCity EdmontonToward the end of the neorealism wave in Italy in the late 1940s the auteurs of the time turned out a series of films about the ennui and boredom of the upper classes. The idea was to make the films long and boring so you wouldn’t just see the privileged tedium on the screen. You’d feel it in the theatre.

That seems to be the premise of New York niche playwright Anne Washburn’s 10 Out of 12, at the Roxy on Gateway until Oct. 16. After years of taking notes in many rehearsals, she has written a behind-the-scenes work about the soul-destroying, dreaded “tech rehearsal” – 10 out of 12 being the 10 hours the Equity actors union allows its members to work in a 12 hour period. It’s that time when a (usually harried) director tries to put all the elements of his play together for the first time. There are sound and lighting cues; exits and entrances are re-staged and often small complex bits are repeated over and over until they are right. All the while, actors stand around not doing much of anything, except perhaps a few fragments of the play. It’s the long, tedious process that will (hopefully) come together to create the magic later on.

Although playwright and this Theatre Network production do their best to keep us from complete and utter boredom, you have to be really into theatre to keep from nodding off. In short, 10 out of 12 is an endurance test.

Washburn has certainly found an ace director in Edmonton. For decades Jim Guedo has proven to be a master of both the technical and dramatic aspects of theatre and his years of knowledge show. To keep plugged into the production, audience members are given earphones over which we are bombarded by the chatter of unseen technicians. Sometimes you understand what’s going on, sometimes it makes no sense at all. Says a disembodied voice, “Group 601 please: 277 at full: group 60 out.” Lights go off and on. Blasts of music lift you out of your seat. Crickets chirp and lions roar.

Guedo has chosen a cast of performers, 14 of them, all of whom have considerable experience on both sides of the footlights. They are all well known and well practiced local actors who play a motley crew of experienced troupers, nervous neophytes and one glorious veteran ham (Robert Benz) who has seen it all – the sort of fellow known in the business as “difficult.”

You can even detect the bare-bones of the play that’s supposed to emerge from all the chaos – a sort of Henry James-Edger Allen Poe-Catalyst Theatre sexual horror story that I’d say is pretty well doomed before it opens.

10 out of 12 GigCity EdmontonAt the beginning, the Stage Manager (Kristi Hansen) burbles, “Thank you for participating in what promises to be a long experience.” She’s not kidding – the curtain comes down (metaphorically speaking) after two hours and 35 minutes. Like any tech rehearsal there are long pauses, long enough to wonder what Trump has done today or play a set of Angry Birds. A technician is ordered to change a light – and he does. Completely. While we watch. Two actors converse for what feels like an eternity but it’s so low you can’t hear them. A voice on the earphone asks earnestly, “Did I mention my rocket science degree?” Energy ebbs. An actor holds up everything while he tries to find cosmic meaning in a simple exposition scene and another exhaustively marks out her entrance. The “Director” (Dave Horak), who seems mostly unable to make up his mind on anything, demands that the costume designer change an actor’s hair style, “We need his hair to have the power of vulnerability.”

This play shows little regard for what it’s supposedly a celebration of – theatre. We learn nothing of the participants. There is no back story or much interplay, except for a bit of horsing around between the actors, or regard for timing, energy, audience involvement, humour or storytelling.

You know – just like a real technical rehearsal.

I must admit, for those that are still involved at the end, Benz, a fine actor, delivers a monologue on what theatre demands of those who practice it and the entire cast joins in singing a lovely song. Being into theatre, I rather enjoyed the experience – but I won’t hurry back to see it again.

Photos by Jim Guedo